Safety on the Camino de Santiago

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In the presentations I give on the Camino, I field many questions from women specifically, about safety on the Camino. While most of this advice is for women, I think men can benefit from it as well.  Let’s begin, shall we? 

**PLEASE NOTE: Trigger warning.  I will be sharing a couple of my experiences and while they are not overly traumatic for me, they may be considered sexually explicit for some.**

Is the Camino safe?

Yes. Absolutely. The Camino is as safe as any large American city, if not safer.

I’ve heard of some unsavory characters along the way.  Is this true?

Yes. Absolutely.  If you follow any of the Camino forums or other groups, you will hear stories of flashers, theft and sometimes assaults.  The Camino is not immune to criminal activity.  In some ways, it attracts it because these unsavory characters know pilgrims are more open while walking.

Have you ever felt unsafe on the Camino?

Yes and no.  On my first Camino, just outside of Cacabelos, I was sitting on a park bench when a young man sat down beside me and proceeded to play “pocket pool”.  While it weirded me out quite a bit, I casually finished my apple, ignored him, and continued walking with my trekking poles at the ready if he decided to follow me.  If I had had a cell phone with me, I would have called the Guarda Civil and had them deal with it. 

On my second Camino, just outside of Porto, I was walking along a boardwalk on the coast when I rounded a corner to see an older man with his pants at his ankles publicly masturbating next to a rather phallic monument, ironically.  It caught me off guard, but I actually just laughed, shook my head and continued walking.  Again, with my trekking poles at the ready if he decided to follow me.

Both places this happened, I was alone and not near anyone.  Of course, with the second instance, this could have happened to anyone walking the boardwalk that day.  I never felt I was at risk, but my “spidey senses” were definitely on high alert.

Aside from these two instances, I have always felt quite safe while walking on the Camino.  In 2012, I spent three days walking pretty much by myself in some really remote areas along the coast of Portugal.  I never felt like I was at risk for anything bad happening to me.  People were quite friendly when I encountered them.

What tips to you have for the solo female pilgrim?

  • Listen to your gut. If you feel like something is not right, it probably isn’t.  I’d rather be wrong than right in these instances.  In the first situation I encountered, my gut was telling me something was not right.  I looked over at the guy and sure enough, it was not right.  Never apologize for listening to your gut.
  • As you walk on the Camino you will be meeting some really cool people from all over the place.  You'll form your Camino "family" and start letting your guard down.  This is great!  Open yourself up and enjoy the experience.  By all means, share meals together and walk together.  Try not to let your guard down when it concerns your personal safety or the safety of your belongings.  Just be cautious about loaning money or letting someone watch your pack if it has your valuables in it. 
  • Theft and other types of small crime are on the rise in Spain, and especially on the Camino. The economy in Spain is really bad. They have a high unemployment rate and there has been an increase in reports of low-level crime from pilgrims walking the Camino Frances.  Figure out what your strategy is to keep your valuables from disappearing.  Mine was pretty simple.  I had a dry bag from Sea To Summit that was large enough for my money, passport, pilgrim credential, camera and any other stuff I didn’t want to disappear.  It worked great for me.
  • Before you leave, take a self-defense class.  Many local police departments offer them for free or for a very reasonable cost.  I took a short one before I left for my first Camino.  I really appreciated the experience and learning some ways to protect myself.  They spent a lot of time talking about listening to your gut, being aware of your surroundings, in addition to how to defend yourself against attacks.

I hope this post has helped you prepare for your walk on the Camino.  If you have walked the Camino before, what other advice do you have for female pilgrims?  If you are planning to walk the Camino, what other questions do you have about safety?

Book Review: A Million Steps by Kurt Koontz

I will be completely honest.  I've walked the Camino de Santiago twice (Frances & Portuguese Routes) and served as a hospitalera once.  I'm a bit of a Camino addict.  However, I have only read a handful of books about the Camino.  I think I can count on less than two hands the number of Camino non-fiction books I have read.  I have a stack on my bookshelf I still need to read. There are at least 50 first-person narrative books out there on the Camino and more and more are being written every day as the Camino continues to grown in popularity after hundreds of years of obscurity.

Kurt Koontz walked the Camino just over a year ago.  Ironically, he finished his Camino just as I was in the middle of my second Camino.  We missed each other by only a few days.  His Camino was so inspiring he decided to sit down and put his thoughts on paper to share with the world.  This book is an account of his experience of walking the Camino.

As a first-person narrative, Kurt does a great job of sharing basic Camino history, as well as orienting the reader to the day to day life of being a pilgrim.  He incorporates this history and information into his daily reflections, which I found slightly distracting.  For an aspiring pilgrim, I can see how this information would be useful.  For a veteran pilgrim, I found myself skimming over these parts to get to the meat of the text.

The book is divided into chapters for each day of walking.  Like many pilgrims before him, his walk includes a cast of characters that make appearances throughout the book.  I can recall certain pilgrims I met on my Caminos who were important to me for various reasons.  One never knows how an interaction is going to influence you along the way and Kurt is great at sharing the importance of each individual he met who meant something to him and why.

I only have one complaint and it's a silly one.  There were several obvious spelling errors in the book.  Moreno wool socks?  And Cheryl Crow?  Someone's copy editor should have known better.

This book is great if you want to experience another pilgrim's Camino.  He shares the good and the bad of the Camino, although Kurt was blessed with more good than many pilgrims, having very few difficulties along the way.

If you would like to buy a copy of Kurt's book, you can do so here.  It's also available on Kindle.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author to review.  For those of you who know me, I am not shy when sharing my opinions about something so you can be confident this is an honest review.  I was planning to buy the book anyways.  It just so happens Kurt and I were exchanging emails about doing a feature on my website: www.caminodesantiagopress.com and he offered to send one to me.  This book is a quick read.  I finished it in two days.